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On the cards, a centre of excellence on water resources

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  21 Jan 2015 12:00 AM GMT

By Our Staff Reporter

Guwahati, January 20: With an eye–on long term planning to address the State’s floods and erosion problem and put to optimum use the water resources, there is a proposal to set up a Centre of Excellence to study and address the water resources needs of the entire Northeast region.

The Government of Assam plans to seek expertise and funding from the World Bank for this purpose, official sources said today.

“Instead of the current piecemeal approach, an integrated, comprehensive and multi–sectoral basin–wide approach and planning will be adopted. The proposed Centre of Excellence will act as the pivot to collect a comprehensive database, study and monitor river behaviour, address human resources and capacity building needs of the stakeholder departments, and also work on long–term river development plans,” the sources said.

The experts during a three–day discussion here were unimous that long–term planning is essential to the people–friendly development of water resources and magement of the erosion problem in Brahmaputra. Need was stressed for overall basin and state–wide river planning and to develop priorities based on social, cultural, economic and strategic needs.

A completely novel approach towards maging floods and erosion in the River Brahmaputra in Assam was discussed among representatives of the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India; the Assam Water Resources Department; Indian Institute of Technology – Guwahati; Assam Engineering College; the World Bank; and the local riverine communities.

A key output was the adoption of new line of thought to leverage the water and other resources of the Brahmaputra to enhance livelihood opportunities and increase incomes of the local population. The innovative methodology included extensive field visits and boat trips by the experts and decision–makers under the “Classroom Conference to River Confluence” program of the Government of Assam.

The recurring floods and riverbank erosion in the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries have posed a serious problem for the Assam State causing devastation every year to the crops, humans and materials. This has been a serious impediment to its human development and economic growth.

Visiting Assam to develop specific initiatives that promote people–friendly development in the river basin, Amarjit Singh, Additiol Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India commented, “Can the local entrepreneurial spirit be invoked to turn adversities into opportunities?” He recommended usage of vast water resources and sediments load to develop income generation opportunities for the local population. A focus could be laid on areas such as eco–tourism, fisheries, high–value agriculture, inland water transport, trade, hydropower, and environment–friendly construction technologies.

Advocating use of extensive wetlands and thousands of water bodies such as beels in Assam, Davinder Kumar, Additiol Chief Secretary, Government of Assam said, “We will begun the scientific magement of such water bodies to enhance the fisheries potential of Assam.” He commented that despite the presence of large water bodies, Assam imports most of its fish requirements from other parts of the country.

An earlier World Bank study had identified several ways to realize economic and social opportunities in the Brahmaputra basin. Currently, only about 32% of Assam’s farmers have irrigation facilities for more than one crop per year. “Given the large amount of water resources, the potential to sow from 2 – 4 crops per years is a very realistic target,” water resources secretary Haren Kakati said.

Input from the communities proved very useful in taking such innovative and bold decisions. They have observed the flow and behaviour of the river from one generation to another and are an epitome of community wisdom. Therefore, it was felt that the coupling of technological and scientific methodology with traditiol and age old community wisdom may be able to give viable solutions in flood and erosion magement in the Brahmaputra Basin.

Under the “Classroom Conference to River Confluence” a group of local, tiol and intertiol water resources magement and social experts were engaged to travel along large stretches of the river by boat and hold consultative sessions with the local riverine communities over a period of two days. In the process, the experts observed the river behaviour from close quarters and jointly explored the possibility of application of the latest technology i.e. river training/guarding and channelizing in more practical ways that are based on the concerns, needs and recommendations of the local communities. The process will also help in identifying the current gaps in the strategy to mage floods and riverbank erosion including those related to capacity in the Water Resources Department, and other agencies responsible for flood and erosion magement in the Brahmaputra basin. In addition, it will bring forth the specific needs of the local communities, the flood and erosion magement team in Assam, and the other stakeholders to design and implement an effective flood magement system in Assam.

The findings of this event will be shared at the upcoming Assam Water Conference from February 5–7, in Guwahati. The conference is likely to attended by Uma Bharti, Union Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvetion; Jitendra Singh, Union Minister for DoNER and Prakash Javedakar, Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change. The conference will see representation from several countries and states, and tiol and intertiol water experts.

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